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Memory as Burden and Liberation

Germans and their Nazi Past (1945–2010)


Anna Wolff-Poweska

This book examines both the obvious and less obvious ways in which Germans struggle with their Nazi past. It embraces only a small part of a complex problem, which is impossible for an individual author to grasp in its entirety and character. The main intention, which leads through a thick of actors, issues, institutions, events and phenomena, is a reflection upon the reasons for which German reckoning with the past turned out to be a process full of contradictions; a bumpy road rippled with political, intellectual and moral mines. This intention is accompanied by the question about the specific character of German collective memory in relation to the helplessness and moral condition of a person defending himself/herself and his/her nation in the face of unimaginable evil.
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Chapter 2. Between the end and the beginning


Chapter 2

Between the end and the beginning

The intensity of dealing with some problems in the history of mankind and its nations sometimes does not translate into their understanding. On the contrary, discovering new truths entails new doubts and new questions. It is still difficult to organise thoughts on the legacy of National Socialism, that is, on the evaluation of a historical process burdened with the most dramatic experiences. The distance that increases as we move away from the end of World War II makes it possible to predict the limits of our understanding. “The owl of Minerva begins its flight only with the onset of dusk”, wrote Georg W. Hegel in 1821, noting that human reflection and philosophical wisdom usually come too late.135

Alongside the discoveries of new, unknown areas and aspects of war crimes, genocide and the mechanism of the seduction of German society with the Nazi ideology, literature is developing about the content and forms of the perception of this greatest civilization breakdown of the modern era. Thus, research results enrich our knowledge not only with the historical facts of the first half of the 20th century, but also with information concerning the condition of social memory and identity and the political culture of the succeeding German generations. Interest in the recent German past rose to the rank of a political and moral problem. The length and intensity of the rising and falling waves of memory and forgetting about the...

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